Kitchen crafting should be enjoyable and satisfying and not something that drags you down or breaks the bank, oh, and it should also be safe! So, like any form of crafting and making you need to follow a few simple guidelines and use the correct tools for the job.
Here is a list of items that will make this preserving lark a whole lot easier, your kitchen kit tools for preserving.
These are the items I use in my kitchen and if you click on the images you will see them on Amazon.
Now before you groan and curse me saying you can’t afford to lash out on a fancy new pan, let me just say that any heavy based pan will do but you want something non-reactive like stainless steele or enamel coated pans for vinegar based cooking of pickles and chutneys.
A Preserving Pan is made with a heavy base so that the jam etc does not catch and burn on the bottom. It has sloping sides so that the top surface of the liquid is larger than the bottom and this allows for rapid evaporation so that the all-important setting point is reached as quickly as possible. I have a couple of old French preserving pans, one in copper (the best ever conductor of heat and the ultimate in jam pots) and a shallow aluminum one that I use for chutneys, though I do get them out of the pan as soon as they are cooked to avoid the vinegar lingering in aluminum for any length of time. I also use my giant old Le Crueset pan for just about anything. A good quality preserving pan like the Kilner one shown here will stand you in good stead for all preserve making adventures.
BAIN MARIE/DOUBLE BOILER
This is a must for making curds as you want to cook them slowly over a gentle heat and a bowl suspended over water is the way to go. If you don’t want to buy this specialist pan just make sure that you have a glass or ceramic bowl that will fit comfortably over a pan and still allow headspace between the simmering water in pan and base of bowl.
I tend to favour the good old chilled saucer method for testing the setting point of jams and jellies, but I do have a jam thermometer as well. Actually I have a few of these including one vintage French one that looks a bit threatening and like something a giant might use. Go for one that can either clip or hang on the side of the pan to keep your hands free. Always remember when taking temperature of preserves etc that you mustn’t let the tip of the thermometer touch the base of the pan or you will actually be getting the temperature of the metal and not the contents of the pot.
You don’t have to go out and buy a special jelly making kit, but to be honest if you are going to make a habit of this game you will find it something seriously useful. My Mum used to use an ancient old jelly bag that we suspended from a broom handle placed across two chair backs with the bowl on the floor to collect the juicy drips.
I have used cheesecloth and muslin to make my own jelly bags and I know of some friends who have made good use of old tights (clean of course!) to strain their precious jelly. It is always good to have extra pieces of muslin about to use for tying up little spice bags when making marmalade etc to stop pips etc getting into the mix. Nowadays I use this Lakeland Jelly Making Kit consisting of a good quality jelly bag that fits on to a plastic stand you clip to your bowl. Makes the whole jelly dripping process a cinch!
Kilner ~Jars are the best for canning and long term preserving. Make sure you use a new rubber seal each time you use them for canning. Of course you can use recycled jars of any type for preserves that are not being boiled or pressurised in the canning process. Always check for any cracks or chips and sterilise all glassware before use.
This is a very important piece of kit and one I wouldn’t be without. While you might not actually be playing with fire when you move your preserves from pan to jar, you are dealing with some pretty hot and dangerous stuff, don’t take chances and think you can just pour straight into jars without spillage. Invest in a simple jam funnel for your own safety, and boy will it save you time on clean-ups!
SIEVES and COLANDERS
You should have both plastic or stainless steel sieves for straining liquids and a good colander for draining cooked fruits and vegetables. Lining a sieve with kitchen paper or muslin is always a good stand-in for a jelly bag when you only have a small amount of jelly to deal with.
This is something you will ned to remove the scum that bubbles up on the top of jam when it is almost ready. You will probably already have one in your kitchen arsenal, but if not this is a cheap piece of kit you can pick up in any kitchen supply shop.
A ladle is a must for scooping your preserves into jars. Don’t be tempted to try to use a cup of even a smaller spoon, remember you are dealing with hot stuff here so use a ladle which scoops up a good amount of preserve at a time and keeps your hand at a safe distance from the heat.
A specialist giant sized pan with rack at bottom and well fitting lid is available for this purpose. However if you aren’t going to be diving into canning in a big way just make sure you have a big old pan with lid on hand and search out some sort of grid to put in the bottom to stop the jars from resting on the actual base of the pan itself.
If you are using the water bath canning method you will need jar lifters which look like odd scissor like contraptions crossed with giant eyelash curlers, odd but essential to save yourself from burns.
Another of my obsessions is collecting vintage chopping boards, come on, show me a foodie photographer who isn’t into them! Plastic is hygenic and easy to clean, but lemon does a great job of cleaning good old fashioned wood. Your chopping board is also a great base for your hot jars as you are filling them.
Any chef will tell you that the most dangerous item in the kitchen is a blunt knife and this is so true. Keep your knives sharp and in good condition and they will keep you safe and do the job they were meant for.
No, not a musical instrument but a lethal weapon for cutting veggies very thinly. I can’t stress enough how dangerous these gadgets are. I have been ‘bitten’ by them all too often, serious care and attention must be taken when using one.
PEELERS, CORERS, PITTERS and ZESTERS
Oh there are sll sorts of little gizmos for the removal of peel, pith, skin, cores, stones and pips. The choice is wide and varied and very much your own.
I love the old fashioned mortar and pestle and have a wee collection of them for making my beloved pestos and sauces. Make sure you get a nice heavy one. I also like to use an old coffee mill for grinding spices and of course I sometimes use my food processor too.
Oh no, yet another of my obsessions, I have loads of these. i love the patina that an old wooden spoon gets after years of use and cannot abide having to ‘break-in’ a new one. Wooden spoons are kind to pans and hands alike and come in all shapes and sizes. Arm yourself with lots.
While I love a good wooden spoon, a rubber spatula is a must for scraping out every last drop of jam etc from your pans. They are invaluable for all other cooking as well of course.
Now if you want to take the work out of all that grinding and chopping and grating and whizzing, a food processor is a treat and such a useful gizmo in the kitchen. For all my love of vintage kitchenalia I have to say I do adore my processor!
Always keep a coupe of old saucers in the freezer so they are ready for testing your setting point when you are in the jammin’ mood.
I am notorious for forgetting to label things in the larder. The number of times I have delved into the freezer and found stacks of flavoured butters all in a row without a label between them, or rows of jellies with no identifying labels. Oh yes, I speak from experience here, where the property folks speak of location, location, location, my mantra is label, label, label!
The original way of adhering paper labels to preserve jars was to simply paint a coat of milk on the back and slap it on to the jar. This still works well today and I still use it as it means I can fool around with designing my own labels and don’t have to print them on fancy sticky labels or anything. You can of course use plain white stationery labels or any type of sticky labels you like. just remember to do it.